As ropers and rodeo athletes, we are readily aware that animal rights activist groups like PETA and The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) are not fans of our sport. You may have seen a protest on your way into the rodeo grounds, or if you’re like me, had an activist tell you that your parents don’t love you because they let you compete in rodeo’s while at the High School National Finals. These people will stop at nothing to see that our way of life is stopped. Although we know that it’s not true, members of these organizations truly believe that we are cold-hearted animal abusers and what we are doing to our animals is absolutely cruelty. Keep in mind, I’m not just talking about the calves, steers, and bucking horses. They believe that animals should not be used for any type of human enjoyment. In their ideal world there would be no farms and ranches raising meat, no horses would be ridden, and all domesticated animals would be treated as pets. While we may think that their ideas are ridiculous and completely far-fetched, they aren’t. And that’s why we need to be paying attention. These activist groups are gaining ground on us and our way of life in ways that we may not even realize.
Not long ago, an extremely well known and over 100 year old circus company folded its curtain for the final time. Why? Because activist pressure had forced them to stop using elephants and other animals in their performances, the major draw to a circus. While people around the world were devastated by the loss of this amazing spectacle of a show, animal rights activists rejoiced calling the closure a “win” for their cause and calling for all other circuses to follow suit.
Think this is an anomaly? Think again. In the past few years activists have been seeing wins across the board. In California they were able to pass a law that required all eggs raised and sold in the state to be from cage free farms. This caused many farms to close because they could not afford to make the changes required and caused egg costs to rise making it harder for the average consumer to purchase. Activist pressure has also halted the orca show and breeding programs at SeaWorld indefinitely. And thanks to backing from HSUS, The Horse Protection Act amendment passed that will essentially irradiate an entire sector of the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry by making certain shoeing practices and aides illegal.
So how does this affect us?
Simply put, if activists can successfully shut down these other industries, they can shut down ours. We need to be both on the offense and defense with these groups and start telling our story. If we don’t tell our own story they will tell it for us.
What can we do to help our cause?
First of all, keep an eye on current legislation in your state. Don’t be afraid to sign petitions and to call your lawmakers. Be sure to do your own research on what these laws actually mean, don’t just listen to the media hype. Of course we all want what’s best for all animals, but sometimes these laws have consequences that aren’t readily seen by the media. (Ex: California farmers no longer raising eggs and egg prices rising.) Be sure to pay attention to the groups that are backing and promoting these laws. If animal rights activists are pushing the legislation you can almost guarantee that the outcome is not going to be good for the animal agriculture or rodeo industry.
Be aware of what you are posting on social media. It’s so temping to post a video of your buddy’s team roping wreck, but even though you know that the only injury incurred was your friend’s pride, an activist group can get ahold of that same video and claim that the horse and the steer suffered terribly and had to be killed. What was once a funny video for your friends to watch can turn into an abuse ridden spectacle seen by hundreds of thousands of people. The same goes for a lot of light-hearted pictures we post online. Think to yourself, could anything in this picture be taken out of context in a negative way? If so, don’t post it.
Be your own advocate in the public eye. I’ve found the best place possible to do so is at gas stations. We all pull off to fuel up and check our horses, give them water and hay, etc. Other travelers are always curious about horses, so talk to them! Ask if they want to pet the horses. Tell them what you and your horses do and where you are headed. Just talking to a normal person that is obviously taking great care of their animals can really change someone’s perceptions if they have seen negative posts about cowboys and cowgirls in the past. An even easier way to advocate for your sport is just wearing your cowboy hat or clothes that represent who you are like you always do. I have a hoodie that says I love my cows and you would not believe how many people stop me in the grocery store to ask me about my cows. That’s a great time to put a plug in about roping cattle and rodeo stock and how well they are treated. That 2 minute conversation could completely change someone’s mind about rodeos because they heard it straight from the source.
Be sure that you and your friends are not accidently donating to these organizations. According to Humane Watch, less than 1% of the money collected by the HSUS actually goes to helping local animal shelters? The rest of the money that they raise goes to lobbying against animals and agriculture.
Lastly, don’t engage with activists either face to face or in writing. Their goal is to get as much emotion as possible out of people, so when you get mad, they win. Be proactive against activists at your roping’s and rodeo’s. Historically activists have turned cattle and horses loose out of back pens and trailers, so be sure to have locks in place to prevent this type of activity. If you do notice someone lurking around the rodeo grounds or acting strange, tell the rodeo management and they will keep an eye on them.
We know that we love our animals and take the best care of them possible, but nothing we do or say will ever be enough for activists. It’s important to remember that the people we need to be having the dialog with are the people in the middle, not the activists. The more that people in our communities know and understand about who modern day cowboys and cowgirls actually are, the less support these extreme activists groups get.
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